The joy of camping – or perhaps not. Years ago, Sherry and I and our four children used to go camping on a fairly regular basis. The camping segment of our lives began when we could barely afford to take a summer vacation.
Any summer vacation trips were made financially possible by spending at least half of our vacation nights in a tent with our children. The nights we weren’t in a tent were spent in the least-expensive motels we could find. That way everyone got a shower and a good night’s sleep in air-conditioned comfort.
Oftentimes, the motels wanted large families to rent not one but two rooms, and that was something we just could not afford. So we got around that by leaving the kids in the car while we registered at the motel. We’d reserve a room with two double beds and a rollaway bed.
Then all of us — two adults and four children – would either slip in when no one at the front desk was paying attention or perhaps we’d walk in in two groups.
There are several tent camping adventures that I can recall, all involving the weather.
One was in Wyoming when what appeared to be a bad storm was approaching one evening. It was 1984, and we were on our first family vacation. Our transportation was our 1981 Dodge Aries station wagon, a former rental car. It seated three people in a front bench seat and three more in a second bench seat, which also folded down to become part of the back floor.
As we watched the approach of darkening clouds, saw flashes of lightning and heard the rumble of thunder, we knew it wouldn’t be safe to stay in the tent. So we moved our suitcases and other possessions from the car into the tent. That way we had more room in the car and, with all of our items in the tent, it was less likely to blow away in the storm.
I honestly can’t remember whether or not the storm actually hit us that night. I think it did rain because we all ended up spending that warm summer night in that little station wagon with the windows rolled up. Sherry and I slept – if you can call it that – sitting up in the front seat, and the four kids, crammed like sardines in a can, slept behind us on the floor.
Another memorable tent camping time was in the Amana Colonies, and once again a storm was approaching. We were under lots of trees in our tent at the park in Middle Amana.
Sherry heard the rumble of the approaching storm in the early morning hours and woke us all. We emptied the tent, took it down and put it and all of our possessions into our vehicle, which by this time was a Dodge window van. It was much roomier than the little Aries station wagon had been years earlier.
We all climbed into the van and tried to get some sleep. As I recall, the storm itself went around us again but it did rain. So we had to leave the windows up, and the van’s interior got quite warm.
I also remember the time we pitched our tent in the mountains of Colorado. (We camped at Mt. Evans. where the campground has a 10,600-foot elevation.) It was a warm August day, but when the sun went down, the temperature dropped like a rock. We had only light jackets and sleeping bags and were very thankful that some campers nearby invited us to sit around their campfire. But later, in the tent, it was a long, cold night as we tried to sleep.
The next morning a camp ranger happened by, and I mentioned how cold it had been overnight. “You’re lucky it didn’t snow on you,” he said. We didn’t feel very lucky.
We eventually gave up our tent and graduated to a used 17-foot Mallard travel trailer that slept six, albeit not very comfortably. The trailer, which we pulled with our window van, went to places like Koch’s Meadow Lake near Tipton, Landuit’s Lake near Joslin, Westlake Park in Scott County and, of course, Middle Amana.
Toward the end of its life, the van began having overheating problems when pulling the trailer, so we stayed close to home.
I remember pulling into the campground at Westlake Park one time when a well-meaning person emerged, pointed to a cloud coming from our engine and said, “I think your van’s on fire.” Embarrassed, I replied, “No, that’s steam; it’s merely overheating.”
Family camping trips were not a bad experience if the weather was good, and the children could be outside the trailer, using playground equipment, playing catch or riding their bikes.
But the rainy days, a regular occurrence in our camping years, were miserable because everyone was cooped up inside the small trailer. Or, if the kids did go outside, they found mud and brought it back with them.
We finally sold the travel trailer because, as Sherry pointed out, she’d often spend a day loading it with food and other items for a planned camping trip. Then we’d end up camping in the rain. And then, when we returned home, she’d spend another day unloading the trailer, mopping its muddy floor and laundering muddy clothing.
Sherry eventually put her foot down and said all of her future camping trips were going to be taking place at a Holiday Inn. I didn’t argue, and we’ve lived happily ever after.
Copyright 2016 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. This piece ran as a column in the North Scott Press, Eldridge, Iowa.